What does it mean to be highly creative? Here’s my conversation with artist, musician and coach Tessa Richter, to find out and hear her views on creativity, health and accessing your full potential. You can listen to the podcast here or via the player at the bottom of this page.

Welcome Tessa to the creative switch. It’s lovely to have you here.

Hi, Nikki. Thanks for having me.

No problem at all. I’d like to start, if we can, with you telling the listeners a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Okay, happy to do that. So I’m an executive career and leadership coach, a business owner. I’m also an artist, a composer and an author. What I do, basically, if I want to put it into one sentence, is I help people develop their full potential and channel their creativity. That has become a very strong focus. But during the course of my life, with a career as a classical musician, an artist, business owner, et cetera, and coaching all my life, I found that there’s a strong correlation between living our potential and being healthy.

I also found that in my own life, ten years ago, I got quite seriously sick, and I thought, Well, I’ve developed my potential. I’ve been spiritual, creative, everything. Why am I getting sick? So I developed my own connection with my inner voice, and it told me, you’ve learned to love others unconditionally, but not yourself. So that has been like the last bit of the puzzle. Loving myself, I finally see how it all ties in my whole life. That’s the advantage of having a certain age and having gone through a lot of existential crises.

About 20 years ago, a neuropsychologist told me I was highly creative and said it was one of the most difficult gifts/talents to have in our society. I thought, well, great, it doesn’t really help me much. It was just a label. But now I do understand that having that gift is an extra energy and an extra form of intelligence, which most people wouldn’t think of.

Being creative is not being artistic. Expressing artistically can be one form of being creative, but not per se creative. So I was a classical musician. I had an international career, and most people would think, oh, that’s highly creative. No, actually it’s not. Of course you can be creative in performing, but it’s a very limited form of creativity. So very early on, of course, I didn’t know about all this. I just had this inner urge to express something that came out of me rather than people telling me how to do things. Yeah, that was the start of painting, and I consciously made the choice not to have another formal training in art because I wanted to find out what comes out of me if it’s not given from the outside.

I hear what you’re saying. I play music, but I don’t read music. I don’t play as much as I should. And one of the things I’m doing this year is exploring my creativity, hence creating the podcast. But I know obviously those people that do, unless you are creating music and composing music, which is one form of using that creativity, actually, if you’re exceptionally talented at performing music, particularly in classical music, what you’re actually doing is following somebody else’s rules, isn’t it? I mean, the whole form of music is quite structured, and then a piece of music is structured and the orchestra is structured, so it’s actually not particularly free. And I’m guessing that what you’re saying is that was what you discovered, that you didn’t have an outlet for your creativity at that point.

Yeah, I mean, I was still fairly young, so I wouldn’t have known how to put it into words. No, I just felt that there was something inside of me that wanted to express in a different way. And definitely, I mean, classical music, it’s like reading a book that somebody else wrote, but you can make pauses and say the way you want to. It’s a bit like that, kind of. So there is an element of being creative, but it’s a very limited. I had to go through painting and art before being creative in music, obviously, because I started very early. Flute and piano. And when you’re so trained to do things a certain way, I never would have thought of myself actually, I never thought of myself as being creative at all.

It’s like you mentioned earlier on, and I’m sure you’re going to get on to talk about some of the things that you’ve then developed and the way you use them to help your clients. But when you mentioned that creativity is not necessarily making something, or the art itself is not the only way to create, I know a lot of people think if they think of themselves as creative, they say, well, that person over there is creative. It’s normally because they’ve made something. But the process of creativity is not that. That’s the output, I guess. So can you talk to me about if it’s not making, if it’s not painting, if it’s not pottery or whatever, what is creativity? What does it mean to you?

Okay, that’s a very good question. So just to finish what you just said, I totally agree. So people who do crafts and handcrafts and they’re also considered very creative, and it can be creative, but it doesn’t have to be creative. And that’s the point. I was asked by a friend to write a chapter for a book on creativity, and that actually started this last part of my journey, understanding myself as being highly creative before I just kind of dismissed it and thought, yeah, okay. And one of the things when I wrote this was realizing that I was also tested, highly gifted. So basically, I could have done anything from becoming a lawyer to artist to musician. But that didn’t help at all, by the way. I’ve had to develop my own processes as to what to choose from this sea of possibilities.

But anyway, one thing I remembered was at school, and I thought this was because I was highly gifted, but in fact, I think it was my creativity. I had a math exam at a fairly high level just before leaving school. It’s like A levels over here. And I had the question, and I somehow figured it out in my head. Don’t ask me how. I just did it. I came up with the answer. I wrote down it was right, it was correct, and it was marked as wrong because I wasn’t able to show the path. And that’s typically creative.

So what happens in a creative brain is that parts of our brains that normally don’t interact connect, okay? Which is why, I mean, this is in highly creative people, if you’re creative, maybe it’s not quite the same. So that’s why a highly creative brain operates differently, okay, and is able to see connections where other people don’t see them.

But I think creativity as such is an innate form of energy we all have. We all create new cells in our bodies every single day. We all create new synapses in our brains unless we live in a dark hole and don’t see anybody and don’t do anything and don’t talk to anybody but by just living. So I think it’s something that we all have inherently as human beings. I think it’s an energy, and I think it’s a form of intelligence. I think, actually and this is my big mission, is, I think, with AI on the up, we really have to focus on what we, as human beings, who we are. And that’s definitely part of who we are.

And so being creative in life can be it can express in so many different ways, and of course, it can express in painting, in music in handcraft, in all of those things. I gave a painting workshop in a corporate environment recently, hoping to bring some of my knowledge and insight. Well, most of the people there were only interested in copying what they had brought. I wanted them to use it as a kind of inspiration and then do something with it. And people got very frustrated because they just wanted it perfectly, one to one. That’s a technique. And the technical aspect of any creative endeavor, whether it’s music, art, craft, is a very important part. So I’m also not a great fan of people who think that if they’re creative they don’t need to learn any technical skills. They just improvise free, float, throw paint at paintings and think that’s it. Of course, anybody can do anything they want. All I’m saying is I think there is an element of both. If you want to channel that creative energy in a way that really satisfies.

You mentioned right at the beginning, you mentioned about recognizing that you’ve been loving other people unconditionally and not yourself, and how that was connected to creativity, but also connected to wellness, being well. In your studies and the things in your explorations, how have you found that well being and creativity are connected? How do they work?

Basically, creativity being a form of energy. I think it’s very simple in a way. Maybe not always easy to implement, but the principle is quite simple. If any energy that you block in your system, in our system, in the body, in the mind, in the emotions is blocked energy. And any blocked energy can go stale and cause problems, first, maybe more mental problems or more what is considered mental problems. I think there is no separation between body and mind, but like depression. So I had very depressive phases. Luckily there was something within me that always pushed forward. I don’t know. But the depressive phases for somebody who’s creative are the phases where you don’t see an outlet, where you don’t know how to express that energy. I think it’s part of anybody’s life and I think it’s part of any creative process. You’re not always switched on 100% and then it just goes.

It’s a bit like, I like to look at nature. I spent a lot of time in nature, and in nature there are times of growth and there are times of withdrawal. During the winter, you can’t see that there’s perhaps a plant there, it’s underground. And then all of a sudden it comes above ground. That’s the creative process. And people well, our society that is so focused on being active or proactive has lost this passive side, the receptive side. Without the receptive side, there is no inspiration. Inspiration is something that comes into us when we’re empty. If we’re full, it’s like a full glass you can’t pour in anymore.

I totally agree with that because my clients are people who are writing novels and struggling with that self belief or whatever it is. And I don’t teach them how to write. I’m not the technique person. Obviously, they do need to develop their technique, but I’m working with them on their mindset, they often think that what they should be doing is constantly making, writing output, output, output.

And sometimes the best weeks they have are the ones where they give themselves permission to do nothing, to do nothing to do with their project, put it away, and then they report back two weeks later and say, oh my goodness, I had this amazing idea, or whatever it is. And it’s exactly what you’re saying there. It’s that downtime. It’s the absorbing of the ideas. It’s living. I don’t think you can create anything that you share with the external world unless you are experiencing life, because that’s where the inspiration comes from.

So for people who are creative, they believe they are, but they’re suppressing it or they’ve not found an outlet for it. That’s one type of situation that you can help people with. What about the people who’ve been told that they’re not creative? And you’ve said, obviously everybody can be, or everybody is? How do you help someone who has been told in the past, perhaps, oh, well, you can’t go and do that thing because you’re not good enough. What are the ways that people can connect with their creativity?

To be honest, I get people self doubting, but maybe not with the connection with creativity, but it’s the same principle. So basically I connect people with experiences they’ve had, whether it’s a fraction of a second or a longer experience of where they were creative. I would explain first, because I think there’s all this misconception about what being creative means. So I would explain what being creative means, and that we’re all creative to open the mind, because if the mind is closed, then you can’t do anything.

And then once people understand that, there are different aspects to it. So there’s like a physical aspect where they can do very simple exercises like free writing for three minutes. You just write down what comes to mind. Or in painting, you can also or drawing, you can do things like that. Or I would give them a task where they’re not thinking that it’s about being creative. I do art coaching with art, and it’s coaching for people who are in art. It’s both.

And I would also work on the mindset, definitely, maybe with a guided visualization form of meditation, relaxation, that kind of thing as well. So you can approach it from different angles. And I would definitely go with where that person wants to express. So if somebody says, I’ve always wanted to dance, or I’ve always wanted to, I don’t know, paint, write, whatever, I would go with that and find a very simple way of expressing first. Nothing too structured, but I would encourage them to go and take a course in video making, in whatever, but connect it with something that has to do with their purpose.

Because I also think this is another element for me of the puzzle, is I don’t believe in L’art pour L’art. I don’t know if you know that term. It was a French term. It means art for art’s sake. And it was a movement. If that’s what you want, that’s fine. I personally think that if we connect what we do to our purpose, we tap into such a vast energy reservoir, really, and possibilities, and that will trigger our potential. So it can help. Sometimes it’s not that easy to find your purpose, but there are ways to approach it. Connect it with that.

I’m trying to think of an example, but I had a client who came for art coaching for quite a while and she was already quite proficient with the technical aspects. She was very much, in her head, always doubting what she was doing. We connected to her purpose, which gave her like a frame in which to work, and also a frame, it turned out, I think she wanted to do something for children. So that was like a different focus. Once you find that focus, the stress goes away because you don’t have to do something that is not in keeping with what you are. And at the same time, because it’s what you really want. It’s like having children. You can be totally stressed if it’s not something you want, but if it’s something you want, you’ll still be stressed. But you’ll have all the inner tools at your disposal because you just know this is for you and you’ll find ways to solve problems.

There’s a couple of things that I want to round back on that I think are fascinating conversations. One of them is that you were asked to write a chapter, contribute a chapter to a book on creativity, and that has now led you to another project. Talk to me about that project.

Well, basically it’s brought me to the topic of being highly creative. And of course, very much, and this is something I believe in too, is if we co-create with life as it is, then again, so much more is possible. And it really helps sort out, out of all those things I could be doing, why should I pick this one or that one? So I realized that if I co created with life as it is, if I didn’t wait for things to be perfect, but also took what was there, then that gave me a guiding principle.

So I wrote that chapter. Actually, the book never materialized, but I really believe that it was perfect that I had to write that to have that focus. And so I’m writing a book about it. I want to coach people. And it’s very synchronistic again, that now everybody talks about diversity, right? ADHD, autism, the whole all these brain diversities. Nobody talks, or hardly anybody talks about these other forms of diversity in the brain, such as being highly gifted, being highly creative. On the contrary, when I told people way back, nobody understood. They all thought, aren’t you lucky? They couldn’t see that I was suffering at least as much as somebody who’s autistic because it’s considered as something positive. So why should you not be feeling good?

So this has become like my latest project. Yes. And I’m on a couple of sites for highly gifted people with that topic. There’s no standard test for people who are highly creative. There’s not much literature, there’s not much in terms of counseling. So I would really love to bring that into the world.

Some of the things you’re talking about things I’ve considered, not writing about them, but just as concepts. And I think as the human race understands our brains better, I think we’re understanding that there is this diversity in all sorts of ways, and actually what we need to do is carry on understanding them and carry on bringing that to the surface.

When I was at school, some people had mentioned Dyslexia, for example, and it was relatively well supported, but not very well understood. So people got some extra time in exams, but they didn’t really understand that if they learned a different way, or if they were taught a different way, then they would be able to explore and reach their full potential. And then more and more conditions come to the fore, and those are understood better, but in the same way as when you’re tested and you’re highly intelligent, really, that’s just an academic way of the brain working.

But then you have the understanding of emotional intelligence. And I’ve asked that question out loud to myself, is there a creative intelligence? And you’re saying, yes, there is. And I think that’s a fascinating subject, which ties into the other thing that you mentioned earlier, which I’m also really passionate about and interested in, which is AI. I know a lot of people are feeling threatened, but I don’t feel threatened because I think what it should do, like all technology, technology is created by humans to make human life easier. And so what that should mean is then we’re free to be humans and do the things that technology can’t do. And I believe one of those things is creativity. You’re talking about is that synaptic connection that is not predictable, because the reason why AI works, I believe, is based on all the inputs and can’t create something that hasn’t already been thought of in some way. I don’t think.

Absolutely. I can give you an example. The same friend who asked me to write a chapter for her book on creativity thought I would be really fascinated by this bit of information that she found. So she found a piece by Bach, by the composer Bach, a modern composer who composed in the style of Bach and AI, that composed also in the style of Bach. And supposedly everybody thought that the modern composer, they thought he was Bach. Anyway, there was a mix up, and she seemed to think, wow, AI…And I had to say, yes, okay, but Bach had to come up with his style first, and afterwards, you can program AI to imitate that. And to come up with this style, he had to live at a certain era time. There’s a timeline, there’s a whole culture. He was in Germany. He was brought up in very religious context, so he wrote every Sunday and et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Plus, he was very special, and he had very special brain.

So I totally agree. But to be honest, again, somebody asked me, are you going to use Chat GPT? And I said, why should I? I like writing. It’s like going for a walk in nature. I don’t want something to drive me through nature. I want to experience my body in motion. I want to experience my brain in motion. I want to experience how my brain functions or doesn’t function. I’d rather have a block and say, oh, I don’t know how to continue. Go for a walk and then have a great idea. Than have somebody write something which is totally perfect, but without any kind of soul.

Yeah, I think it’s useful, but not for pure creativity. That said, I went to an exhibition of the human robot, first human robot artist called AiDA last month, and it was interesting. And some of the art that she’s created is very beautiful, but it was also very limited. What they’ve done, though, is they’ve created a robot to see inputs as opposed to compile them digitally. So she has eyes that see, and then they put images in front of those eyes, and then from that she creates new art. So the reason they set the project up was not to try and compete with artists, but to raise awareness of AI and whether it is or isn’t a good thing. And that discussion, that’s why the whole technology group that got together actually put it out in the world as a discussion. And it was interesting. It did definitely feel limiting to me, I think.

Yeah. I did some research, if you like, years ago, before all this was possible, and I found do you know what a triskele is? It’s like a three fold Irish symbol. Yeah, I found one engraved in a rock on a walk. I thought, wow, this is amazing, because I was just thinking about that symbol. Anyway, I found the same symbol online, drawn by a computer, and also one that somebody had made into a little what do you call it, a piece of jewelry. And I put those three next to each other and it’s totally clear which one is the most powerful. And there’s absolutely no doubt, if you look at an image that is computer generated or that is perfect, it does not evoke anything, it doesn’t resonate with it.

And the same is true for music, which is there’s such a power in music, and I can talk about that for ages, but if it was found, so I read a lot about modern physics as well, because I was very interested, and the Theory of Chaos found that a healthy heartbeat actually does not beat regularly. So there was a representation which I thought the healthy art was the perfect image, and the chaotic one was the sick one. Actually, it’s the other way around. The more chaotic one was the healthy one, the other one was of a person who died three days later. So it’s that slight irregularity that makes life. And if you listen to music where the beat is computer generated, it’s never going to have the same impact. So, yes, I can talk forever.

I would definitely have to get you back another time to talk about music and its power. Because if I was ever going to go and do another degree, not that I’m qualified to do this, but the thing that I’ve always wanted to do is understand that connection, that human connection, why the minor chords make you have different emotions than the major chords, all of that kind of stuff. But we’d go on for hours if we did that. But it’s been fantastic talking to you, as you can tell. I’m sure we have lots more to discuss, but we are limited on time. Where can people find you if they want to follow you or work with you?

So I have a website. It’s called oursecretpotentential.com. Very simple. You just go on there and write an email and I’d love to hear from everyone.

Okay, brilliant. And your book, you’re working on it now? Do you have a deadline for it?

No, I don’t. As these things go with all creative projects, I basically have quite a lot written. So it can either go sometimes it takes a while, and then all of a sudden it wraps up very quickly. It’s a work in progress. If you’re highly creative or you think you may be highly creative, do get in touch. I have developed a kind of a questionnaire for people, and I have written an article and I really enjoyed talking to you. Time just went by.

I know it’s crazy. Thank you so much for your time and let’s keep in touch.


Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Creative Switch. If you enjoyed it, please leave a review over on podchaser.com. And if you’ve got any questions, please let me know on Twitter @nikki_vallance. You can also head to nikkivallance.com to join The Creative Switch community. 

Tune in for episode nine, where Nadine Benjamin shares the moment she almost went for a big promotion in the city but switched direction as she followed her creative passion. And remember, Why Survive When You Can Thrive?